DALLAS — It was Rick Jackson's turn to squirm on Monday.
The former Dallas County prosecutor who is accused of lying and putting innocent men behind bars, was grilled by attorneys for the Innocence Project of Texas who are trying to win full exonerations for two innocent men.
Dennis Allen and Stanley Mozee spent 15 years in prison for a crime they didn't commit. On Monday, in the 203rd Criminal District Court, Jackson had to respond to allegations that he hid critical evidence from the jury.
Nearly one year ago, Allen and Mozee breathed the fresh air of freedom, permitted to walk out of the courtroom as free men. Both had been accused and imprisoned for a murder they didn't commit. A judge ruled they had been convicted on the words of police informants and a prosecutor who allegedly lied.
Jackson, a former assistant district attorney, was forced to take the stand to explain why he allegedly withheld key evidence from jurors during trial.
"He cut deals with not one or two or three... but with every single witness against Mr. Mozee and Mr. Allen," said Cory Sessions, the policy director for the Innocence Project of Texas. "He cut a deal with them and never divulged that information to the defense."
According to trial testimony, Jackson led jurors to believe that a witness — a police informant named Lionel Hardemon — was testifying against the two defendants out of the goodness of his heart after the 1999 murder of Rev. Jesse Borns Jr.
Jackson: 'Mr. Hardemon, do you have any expectations? What are your expectations for testifying in this case?"Hardemon: "Nothing; just to bring a closure to Mr. Borns' death. That's it."
Yet years later — when the Innocence Project of Texas began digging through case files — it found a letter from Hardemon to Jackson, apparently seeking a lighter sentence for another crime he had been accused of.
Among the quotes in the letter that was hidden from jurors:
"...I know that we can come to an agreement..."
"...if I don't agree to testify...""all I'm asking for in return ... is for the three robbery cases to be dropped..."
By law, the letters should have been shared with attorneys for Allen and Mozee.
"It has always been the law that you are supposed to turn that over to the defense in order for the defendant to get a fair defense," Session told WFAA. "He withheld it, and it looks like he withheld it on purpose."
Jackson testified Monday that while he agreed the letters should have been shared with the jury, he believes he did share the letters with the defense team. He testified that he never actually cut a deal with Hardemon.
In a role reversal, the former inmates watched as their attorney — Gary Udashen of the Innocence Project of Texas — grilled the former prosecutor, who admitted the secret letters should have been shared the defense.
Now it's the former inmates who feel vindication.
"I spent over 15 years in prison for a crime I didn't commit," Dennis Allen said. "And so what I'm expecting is justice is finally served."
Monday's hearing and testimony was an effort by Allen and Mozee seek a full exoneration. Should the district judge side with them — and the Criminal Court of Appeals agrees — their exoneration could come by next spring.